As much fun as it’s been dissecting every rumor, and providing rational responses to every over-the-top editorial written for the past two months; I’ve decided it’s time to stop living in the past and look toward planning for the future. The 2011 team, for all of it’s pomp and circumstance coming out of Spring Training, was not as perfect as we’d originally thought. While the Red Sox were still a very good team, they contained flaws that became more noticeable as the season wore on. One of those flaws was in right field.
Coming into the season, we assumed the steady and productive (albeit unexciting) J.D. Drew would continue to patrol the vast expanses of Fenway Park’s right field in the same manner he’d done for the previous four seasons. While we expected he’d both miss some time with injuries, and experience some degree of performance regression; most projected him to be worth around 2.5-3 wins above the replacement level (WAR) in 2011. That didn’t happen. Drew started out pretty well in April, producing a respectable .342 weighted on-base average (wOBA), before seeing his offensive production fall off the table soon after. He limped along from May through July (.265, .261, and.213 wOBA respectively) providing near replacement level production. On July 20th, he was finally shelved with a shoulder impingement injury that effectively ended his season; save for a scant 15 PA cameo in September.
With Drew’s five year $75M contract finally coming to a close, the Red Sox are faced with finding a permanent solution to fill his shoes in right field. Josh Reddick, who admirably filled his shoes in the second half of 2011, and prospect Ryan Kalish are often mentioned as the first two names likely to take the spot. Though as much as I’d love to fill the role with homegrown talent, I have reservations about both players.
Reddick, though an interesting commodity, doesn’t have a particularly high ceiling. He has good power, above average speed on the basepaths, and solid defensive skills that can play at both corner outfield spots (and center in a pinch). Unfortunately, none of his skills appear to be at an elite level. That’s not to say he doesn’t have value. He certainly does. I just happen to see his value being maximized as a fourth outfielder, rather than in a starting role.
For Kalish, the 2011 season was supposed to be about completing the final stages of his development. Instead, it turned out to be a lost season marred by injuries and inconsistent performance. As such, it’d probably behoove all parties involved if he spent a couple of months in AAA Pawtucket to start the season. Kalish, provided he meets his potential, could have a bright future. He certainly has the skill set to be an occasional All-Star. Whether he’ll do it for the Red Sox or another team, remains to be seen. If he does make his mark in Boston, I see it being closer to 2013 than next season.
So if I’m correct in my assumption the Red Sox won’t hand the right field job to either Reddick or Kalish, who will they bring in to fill the hole? After discussing a few names with Tim and Paul on Monday’s episode of Fireside Chats, I decided to dig a little deeper and explore a bunch of different options. Here are my top ten candidates.
Carlos Beltran – While Beltran isn’t the perennial 6-7 WAR player he was as recently as 2008, he still has plenty left in the tank. After suffering through two injury-riddled campaigns, he proved he could not only stay healthy for an entire season, but also still get on base and hit for power at an All-Star quality level. Even more impressive was how he managed to put together his run of success. Despite playing his home games in two hostile hitting environments, Citi Field and AT&T Park, he managed to produce a .389 wOBA. On the basepaths, he’s still very much an asset. Though he’s not going to steal 30-40 bases per season (or even 10-20) as he did in his 20s, he’s still a very smart baserunner that’s adept at taking the extra base.
While Beltran is still quality at the plate and on the basepaths, the jury is still very much out on his defense. Even after moving from center to right, his defense seems to be in a state of decline. Last season, he posted negative values in UZR (-7.3), FRAA (-8.2) and Total Zone (-3), while posting a positive DRS (+2). Based on the eye test, he still looks to be decent defensively. Unlike the previous three suggestions, Beltran’s likely to be valued properly, and should receive a 2-3 year deal from someone.
Josh Willingham – Presuming Theo Epstein and Ben Cherington have similar taste in players (and I have a feeling they might), Willingham is a likely candidate to make onto the short list of right fielders being considered for acquisition. While most consider right-handed Willingham to be more of a platoon player, he was noticeably more successful against RHP (.355 wOBA) than against LHP (.336) last season. Furthermore, were you aware he hit 29 home runs last season? Yeah, neither was I, and I review stats constantly. I guess playing for Oakland will do that to you. As a result, Willingham’s likely be grossly undervalued, and could be obtained for a very reasonable price in the form of a 1-2 year deal. I do have reservations about how his mediocre defensive skills will translate playing at Fenway everyday (-3.1 FRAA in 2011). Still given his reputation as a 2-3 WAR player, he’s someone I’d be willing to take a chance on for the right price.
David DeJesus – Speaking of undervalued players, DeJesus has been the poster boy for his entire career. Having just finished his age-31 season, it’s reasonable to expect that some of his skills have started to erode. It’s only natural. Luckily, his skill set isn’t limited to just one dimension. He’s an above average defensive outfielder that can play center in a pinch, but probably better suited for a corner spot. While won’t add many stolen bases to his team’s bottom line, he’s a smart base runner that contributes runs by taking the extra base and making few mistakes. (Let’s be honest, the Red Sox could use a guy like this on the bases.) Lastly, despite having a down season offensively (.309 wOBA), he’s a line drive hitter (20.9% for his career) that’s usually good for a solid BB/K ratio and 40 extra base hits per season. He’s a good candidate to bounce back next season; especially if he plays in his home games in a park that’s more friendly to offense than pitching.
Ryan Ludwick – It’s easy to forget that Ludwick hit 37 home runs and boasted a .406 wOBA as recently as 2008. Over his next season-and-a-half with the Cardinals, though we saw his performance decline, he remained a productive, starting quality player. Not surprisingly, after a trade to San Diego mid-way through 2010, his offensive production fell even further. While Ludwick hasn’t given fans much to cheer about over the past season-and-a-half, he still has considerable talent at his disposal. He draws walks at an above average rate, and could be a candidate to hit 20-25 home runs in the right ballpark. Unfortunately, he won’t contribute much defensively or on the basepaths, and tends to hit significantly better against lefties (.327 wOBA in 2011) than righties (.284). As a result, he’s probably better suited for a platoon role. If the Red Sox can find a suitable partner, this could be a good move. Few players will be as undervalued as Ludwick this offseason.
Michael Cuddyer – While Cuddyer’s a nice player, there’s nothing particular special about him. Offensively, his reputation exceeds his actual performance. He’s slightly above average in the on-base and slugging departments, and runs the bases reasonably well. Defensively, he’s been woefully mediocre throughout his career regardless of the position he plays. Ideally, he’d slot in best as a DH, but unfortunately, he doesn’t have the offensive chops to provide enough value to justify his salary. That really leaves right field as his only viable option if he joined the Red Sox. Considering his inability to play RF at Target Field, I can only imagine how poor he’d do covering the vast territory at Fenway. Furthermore, due to a sterling reputation as a leader and an undeserved one as a hitter, he’ll probably be overvalued on this year’s free agent market. As a 2.5 WAR true talent player, he’d technically be worthy of the $10-11M salary he’s likely to command. Still, given his limited skill set, he doesn’t seem to be a good fit with the Red Sox; especially long-term.
Rick Ankiel – Given how lefty-heavy the Red Sox lineup (and outfield) already is, it seems unlikely Ankiel will join the Red Sox. Still, bringing him on board might not be a bad idea in the right situation. Defensively, Ankiel seems to have been playing slightly out of position in CF, and should benefit from moving to a less demanding corner outfield position. Ankiel, 32, still has good power and seems to have improved his ability at drawing walks. His pronounced platoon split (.330 vs. RHP, .293 vs. LHP) indicates he could be a candidate for a platoon job. Could he platoon with a right-handed hitter like Ryan Ludwick? Possibly. After displaying underwhelming production for much of the last two seasons in Kansas City and Washington, Ankiel will probably be cheap and undervalued.
Cody Ross – After performing very well post-trade with the Giants, and winning the 2010 World Series MVP; many unfairly placed high expectations on the middle-of-the-road right fielder. After missing the first few weeks of the season with a strained calf muscle, Ross got off to a solid start offensively, posting wOBAs of .379 and .374 in May and June respectively. Unfortunately for he and the Giants, that run of success was short lived with his production bottoming out in July (.264) and August (.248). Though Ross rebounded in September (.415), he did so in limited playing time; his season ended on September 16th due to a strained hamstring. In the end, the career 106 wRC+ hitter finished with a stat line fairly representative of his career record.
Like Ross’s performance at the plate, his baserunning and defensive skills are pretty close to league average. He has decent range, but his arm in right field seems to be somewhat lacking. Ideally, he’d probably fit best in left field for the Red Sox, but Carl Crawford‘s already ensconced at the position. At 31, Ross looks like a 2 WAR true talent player that’s unlikely to improve. If he can be had for a one year contract worth $5-6M, he might be worth a look. Otherwise, I’d pass as there are better options available.
Andre Ethier – Among players Red Sox Nation is most interested in acquiring, Ethier’s name is one of the most popular. On the surface, it’s tough to blame them. Ethier is patient, draws walks at an above average rate, and has had good success hitting for power while playing his home games at pitcher-friendly Dodger Stadium. Despite having excellent success at the plate during the three seasons preceding 2011 (wRC+ of 133, 128, and 130 respectively), his overall offensive production dropped off last season. While Ethier retained his ability to hit for doubles, his home run total dropped by nearly 2/3 from his 2009 total (31 to 11). Much of this can be attributed to a radical shift in his GB/FB ratio. After posting a neutral ratio in 2009 and 2010, his batted ball profile shifted drastically toward the ground ball side of the spectrum. As anyone who knows even a little bit about baseball could tell you, it’s impossible to hit a traditional home run on a worm-burning grounder. To make matter worse, his HR/FB ratio dropped from 15.4% in 2009 to 9.2% in 2011. So even when Ethier was hitting fly balls, a smaller percentage of them were leaving the yard. With only one year separating him from free agency, Ethier’s put himself into a position to prove his 2011 season at the plate was a fluke. At 28, the odds are in his favor that he’ll bounce back. Still, it will be interesting to see how he performs in 2012.
On the defensive side of the coin, advanced metrics saw him making huge strides in the field. UZR and FRAA had him as a league average fielder, while DRS and Total Zone still considered him below average despite his improvements. Considering the relatively small sample size involved in his defensive numbers, I can’t say for sure that his improvement will continue. That said, I have major concerns about his ability to adequately patrol Fenway’s cavernous right field.
With regards to obtaining him in a trade, he’s likely to be very expensive. His reputation as an overall player far exceeds reality. As a result, Dodgers GM Ned Colletti will try to squeeze every drop of compensation out of any team interested in acquiring him. Considering the bounty of players the Red Sox have already relinquished in the Adrian Gonzalez and Erik Bedard trades, I’m not sure it’s wise for the team to sacrifice more players from an already thin farm system for a 3 WAR true talent player; especially since he’s likely to be paid like a 4-5 WAR player. If I was the front office, I’d kick the tires on Ethier, but ultimately expect to pass upon hearing the asking price.
Carlos Quentin – While I criticized Ethier for being overvalued, few players are more overvalued than Quentin. Despite his coming dangerously close to winning the 2008 MVP and carrying a fair amount of offensive talent, he somehow managed to produce two seasons near the replacement level per Fangraphs. (In full disclosure, Baseball Reference and Baseball Prospectus only have his 2009 season as near replacement level.) The problem with Quentin is not his offense. He has a great batting eye, draws walks, and hits for power. As someone who just finished his age-28 season, there’s still a possibility he continues to grow at the plate. Instead, it’s his defense that holds back his entire game. Regardless of what defensive metric you prefer (FRAA, UZR, DRS, or Total Zone), he grades out as a below average fielder. As a result, he’s probably a poor fit for the Red Sox in terms of playing right field. Luckily, he’s strong enough offensively (career .362 wOBA) that he could still be an asset out of the DH slot should David Ortiz leave via free agency. Like Ethier, Quentin’s only one year removed from free agency, and he’s likely to be cheaper both in 2012 and over the long-term. Still, given his deficiencies, it’s probably a little too risky to trade valuable prospects for a player that’s unlikely to age well.
Domonic Brown – Out of all of the trade candidates (and maybe even the free agent candidates), Brown might be the most intriguing player of the bunch. After being named 2011’s number four prospect by Baseball America, many expected Brown would seize the job of starting right fielder with the Phillies. After a forgettable Dominican League season last winter and a slow start in Spring Training, he suffered a hammate bone injury in his right hand that cost him the first few weeks of the season. Upon returning, he was called up to the major league club, and given an option to play semi-regularly. Despite producing a league average .322 wOBA, the Phillies optioned Brown back to AAA. (In comparison, starting left fielder, Raul Ibanez, stunk it up to the tune of .306 wOBA and -1.3 fWAR, yet was allowed to keep his starting job.) Upon returning to AAA, he showed solid on-base abilities, but struggled uncharacteristically with his power output. Given the nature of his injury, it shouldn’t have been too much of a surprise as these injuries can take some time.
Looking forward to 2012, one would have thought the Phillies would open to giving Brown their soon-to-be-vacated slot in left field. Apparently not. According to a recent report, Phillies GM Ruben Amaro plans to keep Brown in AAA to start the season. While he’s only accumulated 292 plate appearances in two stints in AAA, he looks to be very close to being ready for regular playing time at the big league level. At this point, I think the best move is probably giving him a regular job and seeing what he does with it. Amaro disagrees. Since he’s being paid to manage such situations, I will defer to him.
That said, I’m not convinced Amaro is properly valuing his young, 24-year old prospect. Brown is an immense talent who’s only weakness seems to be mediocre defensive play. Luckily, Citizen’s Bank Park has small dimensions, especially in left field, so his deficiencies aren’t likely to be felt as strongly. Still, given how undervalued and possibly under appreciated Brown is by his own organization, the Red Sox (or some other team) might be able to swoop in and pull the trigger on a trade. On Sunday, Scott suggested a trade involving Kevin Youkilis for Brown. Given his age and declining skill set, I don’t think Youk will be enough to acquire Brown, but the Phillies might bite if the Red Sox put together an intriguing multi-player or multi-team trade package. The only problem with Brown coming to the Red Sox is that we’d be putting a less than stellar defensive player at a key position. Outside of that, it’s a pretty intriguing, albeit unlikely, proposition.
So what are your thoughts on who the Red Sox will play in right field during the 2012 season? Will they go with one of their home grown options, or will they acquire someone through either a trade or free agency? If you think a player not included on this list could be a target, tell us who it is and explain why the Red Sox might be interested.